Air India, crew slug it out over mandatory rest norms

May 06, 2015, 08:49 IST | Neha LM Tripathi

A flight attendant, who was part of one of the national carrier’s teams involved in the Yemen rescue mission, has had his services terminated for demanding 22 hours of pre-flight rest

During the crisis at Yemen, employees of India’s national carrier won a lot of praise for the service that they had put in to rescue stranded Indian citizens from the war-torn country. But, it appears that Air India is now in a major war with its crew members on the minimum amount of pre-flight rest hours that should be guaranteed to them.

Mayank Sharma’s services have been terminated by Air India
Mayank Sharma’s services have been terminated by Air India

Mayank Sharma, a flight attendant, was made to stay back in Jeddah on Thursday, when he had asked for the minimum 22 hours of rest before a flight as stipulated by the Directorate of General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), and later sacked.

He had been part of the crew that had handled the special flight from Djibouti that arrived at Kochi on April 9. This flight had a six-day-old baby who had been born premature on board, along with 382 other Indians fleeing strife-torn Yemen.

The incident
A senior Air India official explained, “The crew had operated AI 963 (Kochi-Jeddah flight) and landed in Jeddah at around 1.15 am on Thursday. According to this schedule, they were to get their rest and should have operated only after 22 hours; i.e., 11.15 pm on Thursday.”

But Commander R R Saran ordered his crew, at around 8 am, to report to the Jeddah airport for Air India’s AI 966 (Jeddah-Hyderabad- Mumbai) flight that was scheduled to depart at 10 pm. The Air India official added, “When the crew was ordered to report to Jeddah airport, all of them except Sharma reached the airport on time.”

A crew member close to the development explained, “Sharma called the commander at 10 pm when he had completed his rest, and asked if he could join if the flight was still on the ground. It was at this time that he was asked not to come to the airport and told that the flight would fly without him.”

Commander Saran then declared one of the 12 doors of the Boeing 747- 400 ‘inoperative’, so that the flight could take off without Sharma. A letter by DGCA to the national carrier in 2011 states, “As per safety requirement while deploying cabin crew, all the doors of the aircraft are required to be manned.

In the event the airline is not in a position to do so, they are required to declare the unmanned doors ‘in-operative’ with implication on capacity and load. Air India is advised to follow this strictly.” The crew has now written to the DGCA reporting the entire incident.

This letter states, “The said acts of Capt R Saran of not providing the mandatory 22 hours and declaring a fully operative door inoperative is in violation of the DGCA rules.” On Monday (May 4) evening, Air India sent Sharma who arrived in Mumbai on Monday evening a termination letter via email.

Expert speak
A retired senior Air India official told mid-day, “The rule book clearly states mandatory rest of 22 hours for crew after operating up to 12 hours. But the airline is forcing the crew to operate, leaving behind their rest period.”

The other side
When contacted, an official spokesperson of Air India said: “Cabin Crew Mayank Sharma had operated the flight on April 29 from India, after having been given pre-flight rest as mandated by DGCA rules.

The entire set of cabin crew of this flight, comprising 12 crew members, was thereafter given more than the required rest as per the DGCA governing rules and were scheduled to operate the flight from Jeddah, back to India. Sharma, in total and deliberate misinterpretation of rules, demanded 22 hours of rest in the hotel before operating the flight back to India.

Cabin crew are entitled to this 22-hour rest only when they are operating international flights out of India and at Indian stations. Whilst at outstations, other rules govern such rest, as twice the flying time of the preceding sectors of that day.”

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